Skin Signs of Diabetes

Diabetes can impact the body in many ways. But did you know that your skin can often tell you when blood sugar is out of control? It might even help you spot prediabetes if you haven’t been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes yet. 

If you’re among the more than 37 million Americans currently living with diabetes, you’re probably aware of the signs and symptoms associated with high blood sugar and Type 2 diabetes:

– Excessive thirst

– Frequent urination

– Fatigue

– Blurry vision

– Slow healing sores

– Hunger 

These are all signs that your blood glucose is above normal. But they’re not the only ones. The body’s largest organ – the skin – might also be able to tell you that there’s a hiccup in your diabetes management plan and that it needs to be adjusted. In some cases, signs on the skin can even happen in the prediabetes stage, which could provide valuable advanced warning to those who haven’t yet been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

10 Warning signs of diabetes that appear on your skin

  1. Yellow, red, or brown patches
    This is a skin condition known as Necrobiosis Lipoidica. It begins as small bumps or pimples. Eventually, these pimples turn into larger patches of swollen and hardened skin and will take on a yellow, reddish, or brown hue.

Necrobiosis Lipoidica is usually either itchy or painful and may go through active and inactive stages. Skin often also appears shiny and blood vessels in the skin become more prominent. While uncomfortable, this condition does not pose any serious threat. However, the underlying fact that out-of-control blood sugar may be to blame means it’s time to see your doctor.

  1. Dark skin on the neck or armpit that feels velvety

Acanthosis Nigricans (AN) is a condition that’s also linked to diabetes. It’s distinguished by the formation of dark, velvety patches that usually appear on the neck or armpit area but may also form on the groin and other areas for the body. This condition is often associated with high insulin levels and could be a sign of prediabetes. If you spot it, go get tested for diabetes. It’s a simple blood test that your doctor can perform in his or her office.

  1. Thickening skin – usually on the hands or arms

Yes, the skin begins to thicken, a condition called digital sclerosis. On the back of the hands, skin becomes tight and takes on a waxy feeling, making it difficult to move the fingers. Sometimes this thickening can spread to the arms, chest and even face. In rarer cases, it can also impact the legs and knees making it difficult to straighten the leg. If you experience digital sclerosis, it’s often a sign blood sugar is well out of control. See your diabetes physician right away, as bringing blood sugar back under can control often provides relief. You may also require physical therapy.

  1. Large, painless blisters

This one is uncommon, but it does happen.  Large blisters, much like those you’d get from a serious burn, form on the skin. The difference is these blisters are completely painless. See your doctor right away if you experience these blisters, as they can become infected without proper care. They’re also a strong sign that your blood sugar is not well managed.

  1. Shin spots called diabetic dermopathy

These darkened spots (occasionally lines) create noticeable depressions in the skin and are quite common among people with diabetes, especially those who’ve been living with the disease for a long time. The spots usually form on or near the shin, though they can also appear on the arms, thighs, and other areas. The good news is that the spots don’t pose any health threat. Sometimes they fade after a few months, sometimes they stick around. Still, it’s worth seeing your physician as shin sports are a sign that your diabetes management plan isn’t working effectively enough. 

  1. You suddenly break out in small, red bumps

Known as Eruptive Xanthomatosis, these rash-like bumps appear suddenly and are a big sign that your blood sugar is too high. In fact, once blood sugar is brought back under control the bumps will quickly disappear. Outbreaks tend to occur on the buttocks, thighs, crooks of the elbows and backs of the knees. The pimples usually start red and then become yellow, tender, and itchy. This is a sure sign to see your doctor and get your diabetes back under control.

  1. Dry or itchy skin

While it’s true that anyone can develop dry and itchy skin from things like sun exposure and arid temperatures, people with diabetes are more prone to dry skin because high blood sugar can contribute to the condition. Additionally, nerve damage caused by prolonged high blood sugar can make skin feel itchy. If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes and notice itchy or dry skin, contact your doctor. Gaining better control over your diabetes may help remedy the situation. Your doctor may also refer you to a dermatologist for topical treatments. 

  1. Yellow, scaly patches around the eyelids

This condition is called Xanthelasma and is often a sign that blood sugar is not being properly controlled. Again, see your doctor right away as gaining better control over your diabetes can often make these unsightly patches go away.

  1. Diabetic ulcers on the feet

Prolonged high blood sugar makes a person more prone to infection. It also leads to a condition known as diabetic neuropathy that inhibits circulation and feeling, often in the feet. This causes sores to heal more slowly. Plus, because there’s a lack of sensation, wounds are often left untreated, increasing the risk of infection. If you’re living with diabetes, it’s important to check your feet every day. If you do spot an open sore, clean it and cover it properly, or seek medical assistance. Also, talk to your diabetes physician as this is a telltale sign that your blood sugar may not be under control.

  1. Skin tags

People with high blood sugar aren’t the only ones who can develop these harmless growths that usually occur on the neck, armpit, eyelids, and groin. Skin tags, however, can signal that there is too much insulin in the bloodstream – a warning sign of prediabetes. They can also be associated with the development of Type 2 diabetes or diabetes that is not being properly managed.

What should you do? If you have not been diagnosed with diabetes but have risk factors, such as obesity, a lack of physical activity, and a family history, ask your doctor about getting tested for Type 2 diabetes. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes and notice skin tags, ask your endocrinologist if you need to better control it.


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